The refreezing of meat

Last spring, I made a huge investment in this kick-ass Kitchen Aid stand mixer. My intention was not to make a ton of cakes, but more to make…. sausages!

I had never made sausages before, but was definitely excited to try it and make that part of my do it from scratch repertoire. Fast forward to July…..

My friend Mia  – who has one of the most fertile sausage taste imaginations I have met – and I decided to collaborate on it. Her background in the noble sausage  – as Ruhlman puts it – was helping her grandma make sausages on the family farm in Germany.

The next piece in the story lies with Blakely’s Organics in Owen Sound. Until this year, they only did vegetables. This year, Chris decided to go into Tamworth hogs. That was a really good thing for the Owen Sound market since – with Stoney Keppel Bison –  now they had two organic meat purveyors  (the meat and chicken store in the inside of the market don’t count IMO). I talked with Kay about it and she suggested that since I would need the sausage thawed, and then I would be refreezing the sausage, that I ought to get fresh meat – necessitating me being at the market the Saturday following a delivery of their meat back to them from their butcher.

Both she and I were under the distinct impression that once meat was thawed, it could not be refrozen.

This belief however, meant that I would need to know when she was sending a hog in AND be up in the Sound the following weekend  – 2 occurrences that don’t happen often. But it did happen once in July. Mia and I made our first batch of sausage on July 23 – and it did NOT last long! We needed to do it again.

But I did begin to wonder about the refreezing issue. The timing was not working out, and I was reluctantly buying other people’s sausages (Kay’s included), knowing I would have a tastier and more fun product with Mia’s fine sensibilities in this domain.

So last week I talked with both Susan (Stoney Keppel Bison Farm) and Kay about the whole issue of refreezing met and we all agreed we ought to research it, and not rely on what might after all be no more than an old wives tale.  If we found that meat could happily be thawed and refrozen, it would make a huge difference for me and the acquisition of meat for sausage making. If it could be refrozen, I would simply place my order, say when I will come, and receive it frozen.

On my part I inputted ‘freezing meat’ into Ma Google, and chased down some of the more authoritative looking results – notably the USDA food safety site. I copied the url to a word document, and copied and pasted relevant sections of text.

The overall conclusion:

  • There is nothing that says you cannot refreeze meat.
  • The real issue is how long and at what temperature is it above zero, when the micro-organisms are active.
  • I could therefore receive frozen meat, thaw it sufficiently in the fridge for it to be around 0-1 degree, salt and spice it for grinding to sausage, make my sausage and freeze it – all very happily.
  • It would actually be safer for me to purchase already frozen meat than to have fresh meat wait until I can process it.
  • Since its a complex issue, I can well understand a butcher simplifying it all for a customer by saying ‘once you thaw, you have to cook and eat.’ This way they do not open themselves up for liability.

Here are the gory details from my search, copied and pasted from that Word document:

Please note that the text is directly quoted from the URL ABOVE it.

Freezing Duration 
Frozen meats can be safely frozen indefinitely as long as your freezer maintains a temperature of 0°F or lower. At this temperature, bacteria, yeasts, and molds are inactive (not destroyed). Freezing meat simply stops the clock when microbes are concerned. So, if a piece of meat is about to go bad when you freeze it, it’s about to go bad when after you thaw it. It’s best to freeze fresh meat shortly after purchase unless you plan on using it. 

Enzymes are not stopped by freezing, but merely slowed down, so the quality of the food may diminish over time. This is not a safety issue, but a food quality conern.

There are a few safe methods of thawing meat, but only one way that allows you to refreeze the meat if you don’t use it. Thawed meat inside the refrigerator is safe to be refrozen as long as the refrigerator maintains a temperature of 40°F or less. 

On December 08, 2005 at 07:53 AM, Michael Chu said…

Old wives’ tales? The United States Department of Agriculture states “Food stored constantly at 0°F will always be safe. Only the quality suffers with lengthy freezer storage. Freezing keeps food safe by slowing the movement of molecules, causing microbes to enter a dormant stage.” Are you going to trust a chef on TV or an engineer who is obsessed with reading about cooking (or the government)? 🙂 Hmmm, come to think of it, none of those are comforting sources of information. If you’re concerned, then eat your frozen meats within six months – chances are the quality will be better anyway. 



Is Frozen Food Safe?
Food stored constantly at 0 °F will always be safe. Only the quality suffers with lengthy freezer storage. Freezing keeps food safe by slowing the movement of molecules, causing microbes to enter a dormant stage. Freezing preserves food for extended periods because it prevents the growth of microorganisms that cause both food spoilage and foodborne illness.

Does Freezing Destroy Bacteria & Parasites?
Freezing to 0 °F inactivates any microbes — bacteria, yeasts and molds — present in food. Once thawed, however, these microbes can again become active, multiplying under the right conditions to levels that can lead to foodborne illness. Since they will then grow at about the same rate as microorganisms on fresh food, you must handle thawed items as you would any perishable food.

Trichina and other parasites can be destroyed by sub-zero freezing temperatures. However, very strict government-supervised conditions must be met. Home freezing cannot be relied upon to destroy trichina. Thorough cooking, however, will destroy all parasites.

Nutrient Retention
The freezing process itself does not destroy nutrients. In meat and poultry products, there is little change in nutrient value during freezer storage.

[Top of Page]

Enzyme activity can lead to the deterioration of food quality. Enzymes present in animals, vegetables, and fruit promote chemical reactions before and after harvest, such as ripening. Freezing only slows the enzyme activity that takes place in foods. It does not halt them. 

Enzyme activity does not harm frozen meats or fish and is neutralized by the acids in frozen fruits.

Freeze Rapidly
Freeze food as fast as possible to maintain its quality. Rapid freezing prevents undesirable large ice crystals from forming throughout the product because the molecules don’t have time to form into the characteristic six-sided snowflake. Slow freezing creates large, disruptive ice crystals. During thawing, they damage the cells and dissolve emulsions. This causes meat to “drip” and lose juiciness. Emulsions such as mayonnaise or cream will separate and appear curdled.

Ideally, a food 2-inches thick should freeze completely in about 2 hours. If your home freezer has a “quick-freeze” shelf, use it. Never stack packages to be frozen. Instead, spread them out in one layer on various shelves, stacking them only after frozen solid.

Safe Thawing
Never thaw foods in a garage, basement, car, dishwasher or plastic garbage bag; out on the kitchen counter, outdoors or on the porch. These methods can leave your foods unsafe to eat.

There are three safe ways to thaw food: in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave. It’s best to plan ahead for slow, safe thawing in the refrigerator. Small items may defrost overnight; most foods require a day or two. And large items like turkeys may take longer, approximately one day for each 5 pounds of weight.

For faster thawing, place food in a leak proof plastic bag and immerse it in cold water. (If the bag leaks, bacteria from the air or surrounding environment could be introduced into the food. Tissues can also absorb water like a sponge, resulting in a watery product.) Check the water frequently to be sure it stays cold. Change the water every 30 minutes. After thawing, cook immediately.

When microwave-defrosting food, plan to cook it immediately after thawing because some areas of the food may become warm and begin to cook during microwaving.

Once food is thawed in the refrigerator, it is safe to refreeze it without cooking, although there may be a loss of quality due to the moisture lost through thawing. After cooking raw foods which were previously frozen, it is safe to freeze the cooked foods. If previously cooked foods are thawed in the refrigerator, you may refreeze the unused portion. Freeze leftovers within 3-4 days. Do not refreeze any foods left outside the refrigerator longer than 2 hours; 1 hour in temperatures above 90 °F.

If you purchase previously frozen meat, poultry or fish at a retail store, you can refreeze if it has been handled properly.

Freezer Storage Chart (0 °F)
Note: Freezer storage is for quality only. Frozen foods remain safe indefinitely.



Bacon and Sausage 1 to 2
Casseroles 2 to 3
Egg whites or egg substitutes 12
Frozen Dinners and Entrees 3 to 4
Gravy, meat or poultry 2 to 3
Ham, Hotdogs and Lunchmeats 1 to 2
Meat, uncooked roasts 4 to 12
Meat, uncooked steaks or chops 4 to 12
Meat, uncooked ground 3 to 4
Meat, cooked 2 to 3
Poultry, uncooked whole 12
Poultry, uncooked parts 9
Poultry, uncooked giblets 3 to 4
Poultry, cooked 4
Soups and Stews 2 to 3
Wild game, uncooked 8 to 12


It is important to label all foods that you put into the freezer with the date, weight, contents and the date by which they should be consumed.

When purchasing meat from your local butcher or supermarket, it is important that you freeze it as soon as possible after purchasing for quality of meat as well as food safety purposes. Fresh meat is highly perishable and should not be left out of the refrigerator or freezer for longer than 2 hours, although 2 hours is still long enough. 

Meat products are susceptible to bacteria, which can cause food poisoning and illness. Therefore care must be taken when handling raw meat and you must ensure that all surfaces, utensils and especially your hands are clean.

Although meat products can be stored for many months in the freezer, after a certain amount of time, depending on the type of meat and amount of fat it contains, it will eventually go off and need to be discarded. 

Meat, poultry and fish will turn rancid, even if stored in the freezer, after a certain amount of time. This may be due to poorly wrapped products or incorrect packing being used. However, over time, these products will naturally turn rancid due to chemical changes that take place. 

In order to prolong the freezer storage time and to ensure that spoilage of the product does not occur too quickly, it is best to trim all excess fat from the meat product before wrapping and storing in the freezer. 

In other words, the less visible fat on a product, the longer it will keep in the freezer. In saying this, cured meats such as bacon or ham, will not freeze for as long as other products, as the high quantities of salt contained within these products will also speed up the rancidity process.
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One thought on “The refreezing of meat

  1. Pingback: My Sausage factory | homecookexplorer

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